Steelers dumped 36-10 by Chiefs as playoff hopes keep fading

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday with their playoff hopes already beginning to fade.

Then, they played like a team ready to disappear into the offseason.

Ben Roethlisberger was picked off on a first-half flea flicker that helped Kansas City build a big early lead. Chris Boswell missed a field goal. Diontae Johnson inexplicably dropped the ball for a fumble. Roethlisberger also fumbled in the fourth quarter.

But the Chiefs had built an insurmountable lead on their way to a 36-10 victory and their sixth straight AFC West title. The Steelers (7-7-1) were left even further behind the AFC North-leading Bengals (9-6) with two games left in the regular season.

The first half was a microcosm of the entire game: Pittsburgh punted twice after drives went nowhere, Roethlisberger was picked off on another, there was a turnover-on-downs and the team a missed a field goal before halftime mercifully arrived.

By that point, the Steelers were in a 23-0 hole, becoming the first team in NFL history to trail by at least that many points at halftime in three straight road games. And lest anyone think they’ve been better at Heinz Field, the Steelers failed to score a touchdown in the first half of their fifth straight game for the first time since 1940.

Roethlisberger went 23 of 35 for 159 yards as the Steelers offensive line was dominated by the Chiefs’ defense. It didn’t help that his wide receiver corps kept dropping passes and making mistakes — Ray-Ray McCloud may have made the biggest one when he was called for taunting after a catch with his team trailing 30-0.

Najee Harris wasn’t a whole lot more effective on the ground this week after being bottled up by Tennessee last week. The rookie running back carried 19 times for 93 yards on Sunday, but the vast majority of his yardage came with the game out of reach.

Then there’s the Pittsburgh defense, which watched the Chiefs march 83 yards on their opening drive and never slowed them down.

Kansas City scored on its first four drives, taking a 23-0 lead, and coach Andy Reid’s crew would have been 5 for 5 had fill-in kicker Elliott Fry not missed a 39-yard field goal wide left before the half.

A Pittsburgh Steelers fan watches during the second half of an NFL football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo.

Patrick Mahomes was 23 of 30 for 258 yards and three touchdowns — and didn’t have for a target tight end Travis Kelce, who is still on the COVID-19 list. Mahomes’ numbers would have been more impressive, too, but the Chiefs were so far ahead in the fourth quarter that they put Chad Henne into the game to finish it out.

The Steelers somehow managed to beat the Titans last week despite gaining 168 yards of total offense. They didn’t come close to pulling off the same trick in Kansas City.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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